An open note to Sara and Gail –
This paragraph (“In other words … sail quickly out of harbors that have silted up”) from Eberhard Bethge’s biography on Bonhoeffer expresses what I feel you are faced with in developing the UMC.
True, those voices make it easy to absolve myself of responsibility. Simply do what they ask. The loudest in a roomful of children usually succeed in getting our attention. How loud they can be when it’s time to pass out treats.
But I’ve discovered God speaking in the slow-to-speak-quiet voice. Often lost in the noise generated by the pushy-too-loud crowd. Sometimes it is a voice speaking only through a look or a touch.
That’s the point when we read the Gospel account of the woman healed by reaching out and touching the hem of Jesus’ clothes. It surprised his disciples, and the woman, that in the pushy loud crowd Jesus noticed.
Phil Needham’s When God Becomes Small (Abingdon Press 2014) continues to impress on me the value God places on the small. I have been reading his use of ‘small’ as equivalent to my use of ‘powerless’.
One afternoon several years ago I saw this powerlessness as I drove past a frail aged woman walking along the street. All drivers slowed and swung wide to give her a safe margin. That image has stayed. It keeps revisiting me as an image of the power powerlessness of God.
God’s power is not like the power of the loud and insistent. Divine power is quiet, persistent and also easy to go unnoticed. It appears as helpless, unimportant, the least, as a child, as small, as human.
Years ago a mentor taught me that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. I find that image consistent with Jesus. Instead of dictates, questions. Instead of the well-placed, outsiders. Instead of orders, invitations. Instead of barging in he says ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus gives a list of the powerless in Matthew 25. It is clear that it is him that we hear, see and help in the hungry, thirsty, alien, cold, sick, and imprisoned. If we do, we receive his welcome and kingdom.
I leave you with this verse from William Edwin Orchard.
Like summer seas that lave with silent tides a lonely shore, like whispering winds that stir the tops of forest trees,
like a still small voice that calls us in the watches of the night, like a child’s hand that feels about a fast-closed door;
gentle, unnoticed, and oft in vain; so is Thy coming unto us, O God.
I woke a few minutes before my clock radio. I rose and walked down the hall toward the stairs.
I pause. Out of the window north I see as I’ve seen before, but this morning I pause, notice, and wonder what is the story in that apartment. It’s a block away. A large empty lot intervenes, clearing the way for my eyes. It’s a generous line of sight this upstairs northward view gives. The apartment is dark just as are most at this time of morning. On the streets very few people yet.
I creak my way down the stairs. 16 steep steps. Midway my view changes. Through the window above our front door I now see across the street. That house is also dark but it is always dark.
Last week when John and Betsy stayed a few days on Arsenal I learned that Mrs. Williams once lived in the house. John told me that he knew her. Often stopped to visit. Regularly helped with the kind of things an elderly woman living alone could not do for herself.
Mrs. Williams no longer lives in that house nor in this world. The house is dark.
Some say that the world too is dark. At five on a winter morning, yes. Moving beyond a literal sense, this world can be painted dark or light. Depending on the viewer.
What do we expect to see?
This week I’ve resumed reading Phil Needham’s book When God Becomes Small. I am reading where he says “we do not expect to encounter God, and therefore we usually do not.” It is so when, Phil points out, we become distracted from the ‘all-important now’.
One of my favorite set of lines is John Keble’s:
If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find, new treasures yet of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.”
At that second line, usually quietly with my lips barely moving, I believe I experience an actual sharpening of my powers of awareness. Everything and anything POPS!
“…be set to hallow all we find…”
is my psychic coffee.
The 5 o’clock bus. What is the story of the opening of its door at the corner of our block, eastbound? I hear it from my bed upstairs, before I look out of my first window for the day. The hydraulic hiss of the lowering bus accompanies the recorded woman’s voice announcing the purpose of its stop. Someone gets on this bus every morning. I am guessing to work. That it’s a long trip with a transfer ahead. It will be a long day for that man (let me make a man of him in my imagination, invited aboard by the woman’s voice).
This morning I have surprised the bus and the woman’s voice. I am downstairs making coffee. As I measure out scoops I hear the eastbound Arsenal bus, a hiss, the proclamation. Then the bus roars away.
It carries a story.
I live in a place surrounded by stories. We call this place the city.
Gary Busiek sent me a link to this St Louis Post-Dispatch story on the work called NightLIFE which the Reverend Kenneth McKoy leads in North St Louis. Reverend McKoy is the pastor at Progressive AME Zion Church in St Louis’ Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
Reverend McKoy leads a small group that walks neighborhood streets for three hours each Saturday night. Their focus is on young people, the young people at risk for violence. NightLIFE shares sandwiches and prayer. The point? “They’re building relationships. Spreading hope. Spreading the message that they love the city’s young people more than they fear them.”
An excellent story. And Reverend McKoy expressed what is at the center of what and why he does this.
“Hey, man, every time we pray for someone, God blesses them. That’s why we’re out here for you all. If you all don’t make it, we’re not going to make it.”
Last night we headed west on Arsenal Street to Linda’s place. Sweatshirt. Light sweater. December with no coats.
Has the weather this month where you live been warm, remarkably warmer than usual? It’s been so in St Louis. Yesterday may have set a record high with temps in the low 70s. Our December weather is acting as backdrop for the global climate summit just ending in Paris.
We have now lived 14 weeks in Benton Park West. Am I noticing what is going on in my neighborhood?
My morning run. I run south through several of our neighborhoods. Benton Park West. Mount Pleasant. Gravois Park. Dutchtown. Quiet places in the morning. No crazy stuff other than a rare stray dog who wants to get too close to me. I see neighborhoods rubbing their eyes as they put children out to wait for school buses. Men and women returning from night shifts.
I also am beginning to notice changes. New work beginning on the old yet beautiful St Louis brick houses on every block. Mansions and humble working class homes built in the 19th century. I note the portico temporarily propped on Nebraska Street now displaying proper columns. One of my favorite places at a southwest corner on Ohio that has had backyard cleanup going on for weeks, now there are lights inside. Is someone planning to fix up and live in it?
All along the streets of my running route I see the same places, and change.
This change, sometimes seen incrementally, other times dramatic (like another house on Nebraska wiped off its lot by demolition), I am learning to see it.
It is part of a larger rhythm, the rhythm of a city.
Here’s the entrance to that Ohio house –
I’m going to CCDA in Memphis (November 11-14) and just looked at the workshops offered at this year’s national conference.
Temple House Dwellers: you might want to start planning your choices for Thursday and Friday afternoons.
Lisa Waud is a florist in Detroit who paid $250 for a house in Hamtramck. This past weekend it was filled with 36,000 flowers. Before the flowers 12,000 pounds of trash was removed. This past weekend 2,000 people visited the house. Now it “will be responsibly deconstructed and its materials repurposed. The land will be converted into a flower farm and design center on their formerly neglected properties.”
It’s called Flower House. Last week the New York Times reported on the Flower House:
Flower House will be opened to ticketed visitors from Friday until Sunday. When the installation is finished, Reclaim Detroit’s crew will take down the house, leaving an empty field. The wood will be repurposed into new objects like tables, guitars and cutting boards …
The house itself is not salvageable. Like so many of the derelict Detroit homes that sell for rock-bottom prices, this one would cost more to rehabilitate than it is ever likely to be worth. A construction engineer whom Ms. Waud spoke with estimated the repair costs at $1 million. Paying this year’s property taxes on Flower House and its neighbor cost Ms. Waud three times what she spent to actually buy them …
When the lot is cleared, Ms. Waud plans to turn it into a seasonal farm to help supply flowers like peonies and dahlias for her business …
“It’s a beautiful ruin,” she said. “It’s charming, kind of scary and eerie, and beautiful in a dark way. To step into it is going to be surreal, and unforgettable.”
Yeah, I can imagine.
One last quote from Sally Vander Wyst, a collaborating florist from Milwaukee. “”Our concept is post-apocalyptic spooky … we want it to look like the world ended and nature took things back within seconds.”
Today I was in Chicago.
I was in Chicago with personal missions to complete. Like a new pair of shoes to wear with my Salvation Army officer uniform. Alamo Shoes on Clark in Andersonville. It’s been my shoe salvation for many years. It’s not easy finding my size for this kind of shoe. Alamo has always saved me. Today, I walked in, a salesman greeted me, I told him what I wanted, a moment later he had the shoes. I was out in ten minutes. My kind of shopping.
But I utterly failed in finding a replacement metal teapot for Yoshiko.
For years my mother has used a small, very small, aluminum teapot to brew green tea. When I visit we share tea from this increasingly worn pot. Her favorite tea: genmai cha. Today I thought Mitsuwa in Arlington Heights would be teapot salvation. Wrong. I am so sure that I once saw this type of pot in Mitsuwa’s grocery store, but today nothing. And the little shop once in Mitsuwa, filled with all sorts of Japanese household articles like a metal teapot, gone. Today, only an empty space.
After my disappointment at Mitsuwa I drove from Alamo this afternoon to Joong Boo Market on Kimball almost under the Kennedy Expressway. It looked promising when I started searching but again, disappointment.
On the way I drove California between Irving Park and Addison and passed the high school our youngest son graduated. It’s name has changed. Once, Gordon Tech. Now, DePaul College Prep. But that section of California still also has the little signs bearing the honorific name of Gordon Tech.
As time goes by more people will wonder. Why ‘Gordon Tech?’
After the disappointing Joong Boo I stopped for lunch at Penny’s Noodle on Sheffield under the Brown line ‘L’. The waitress smiled when I entered. It’s gratifying to be recognized after a long absence. But the menu she offered said “Paul’s Noodles”. Yes, there too was a name change. But she assured me that the same family still ran the restaurant. I believe her. My warm bowl of wonton soup was as good today as in years’ past. It felt very good on this sunny day which warmed only to the low 50s.
And my bank (I still bank in Chicago). The same bank, but it got a new name several months ago.
And Caribou Coffee. Now, Peets.
The changes in names today invoked pattern-searching instincts in me; what’s going on? I’m not sure there’s any significance to all the name changes. Still, I wonder.
Names and identity. In such a densely populated place like a city, a place with so many places, we can feel lost without the familiar. The school building, the noodle shop, the bank were all still there. But, the names. All different. I felt faintly bewildered and not completely liking all this changing of names.
Mitsuwa was once Yaohan. It went through a name change several years ago. I have grown used to that change.
Sears Tower, now Willis Tower. Many Chicagoans have not gotten used to that.
The things are there, mostly unchanged in appearance and perhaps substance. But the names. How is it so that it matters?
Living on Arsenal Street means neighbors.
Kamaria next door mentioned a couple weeks ago that she was considering decorating her front steps. We arrived home this afternoon from a retreat at camp. She did.
Looking east down Arsenal this afternoon –
This weekend at camp we worked together with Officer friends. Conversation at dinner last night touched on the disconnected lifestyle of Salvation Army Officers. Most of us tend to be so absorbed in our work that we barely know who are our neighbors.
Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:29)
Most of us who work in urban areas are assigned living quarters in suburbs. Like many suburban dwellers we drive into a garage, shut the door, and never meet neighbors. So busy doing the most good. The priest, the Levite in the Gospel of Luke probably were also busy. Religion’s high callings tend to keep us busy. Sometimes too absorbed to notice others along the street.
Sound like your life?
Living on Arsenal means knowing Marlo and Kamaria next door. Joe across the street. The houseful of Mexican guys at the end of the alley who on occasion like to fill the trash bin with beer bottles. The two households across the street on the block west of us, who do not want to know you. Who do not want you bothering them. Only makes us wonder. What’s up with those two houses?
Marlo tells us that he keeps an eye on the street. We are learning to do the same. Sara just west of us, the same.
We are learning who are our neighbors.
Here they are –
We were guests at the St Louis Adult Rehabilitation Center on Forest Park Avenue. The St Louis ARC is one of a hundred ARCs operated by The Salvation Army throughout the USA. ARC specializes in a program for men and women dealing with substance abuse/addictive behaviors.
I failed to get a picture during the morning worship. Major Katrina Mathews directing the choir. One of the leaders in an astonishing leap out of his pew to worship. A graduate’s earnest words on completing the 180 day ARC program. His mother’s testimony, that she sees something very different in her son; he’s been transformed.
At lunch we debrief. Wrap up other business. And then return to Benton Park West to tag team our one mower as we cut our lawns. From the house at Wyoming to the California house and then to ours at 2708 Arsenal. Texas house will get done later this week. After I finish, I push the mower back to the basement at the Temple Corps.
Sara tells us that being a good neighbor means giving attention to these kinds of things.
Being a good neighbor also means unplanned-for time and energy away from planned-for matters of our personal/individual/private lives.
We talked about this quite a bit yesterday.
We live lives where things are tidy, on time, arranged in an economy of things fitting into an orderly and neat life. We do have jobs, school, commitments.
We also walk down the street, on our way to the next thing on our agenda, but stop to make time for someone, a neighbor, a person who may be in need.
We are learning to live our lives in the tension between both.
We are learning when to be on time or when to make time.
One last thought. If we choose to make time, it’s a creative action. The appearance of time comes in the Genesis account of creation. There is a sun and moon. Seasons. And the Genesis narrator’s voice says there was evening. There was morning. The first day. (Genesis 1:5)